Atmospheric photochemistry at a fatty acid–coated air-water interface

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Science  12 Aug 2016:
Vol. 353, Issue 6300, pp. 699-702
DOI: 10.1126/science.aaf3617

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Active fatty acid layers

Saturated fatty acids are considered to be inert, but they can be surprisingly reactive when present as a coating at an air-water interface. Rossignol et al. show that nonanoic acid is photochemically active when it is present as a monolayer on a water surface (see the Perspective by Vaida). Fatty acids are ubiquitous in the environment, and their photochemical processing could have a substantial impact on local ozone and particle formation.

Science, this issue p. 699; see also p. 650


Although fatty acids are believed to be photochemically inert in the actinic region, complex volatile organic compounds are produced during illumination of an air-water interface coated solely with a monolayer of carboxylic acid. When aqueous solutions containing nonanoic acid (NA) at bulk concentrations that give rise to just over a monolayer of NA coverage are illuminated with actinic radiation, saturated and unsaturated aldehydes are seen in the gas phase, and more highly oxygenated products appear in the aqueous phase. This chemistry is probably initiated by triplet-state NA molecules excited by direct absorption of actinic light at the water surface. Because fatty acids–covered interfaces are ubiquitous in the environment, such photochemical processing will have a substantial impact on local ozone and particle formation.

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